Sunday, January 11, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Social Entrepreneurship and iTunes U

By trade, I am product developer. I design and build product for American consumers, mostly wealthy ones. While I was in business school at Darden, if I could have chosen any career, this is what I would have chosen. In fact, it is what I have been doing my whole career in a variety of industries - I was building programs, theatre productions, communication plans, and fundraising concepts. However, up to that point I didn't give much thought to the idea that what we do is just as important as how we do it and whom we do it for. 

Just after my graduation I moved back to New York City sans job. By the end of June I had a good job offer to start in July in the field of innovation, exactly what I wanted, and was free to spend a fair amount of time bumming around my old haunts, wandering, and reacquainting myself with a city that I had not lived in full-time since 2001. One afternoon I found myself at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. They were running an exhibit called Design for the Other 90%. At the time I did not realize that this exhibit and my strong belief in community service would start me on a course that would begin to dominate the way I view my future and my career.

Now a year and half out of business school, a light bulb has gone off for me. I have spent all of this time thinking that I needed a really brilliant idea to start an entrepreneurial venture, and that starting my own business mean a complete about-face from all of the work I have done in the past. In actuality, becoming a social entrepreneur is an amalgamation of all the work I have done to this point, and mixing it up with personal passions of history, culture, and volunteering. As Steve Jobs says, "Looking back, we are able to connect the dots of our lives." And that is exactly the process I currently find myself in. 

I have been doing some research to find a class to take on the subject. Columbia has a few, as does Pratt, the New School, and NYU. Though none of them have exactly what I'm looking for. They either treat the subject as part of a nonprofit management masters, a business class, or as part of the sociology curriculum. One woman from NYU suggested I take a class entitled something like "How to become a female entrepreneur." Can you imagine? It was essentially a class on how to write a business plan. I was telling my friend and mentor, Richard, about these classes and his response was, "I don't suggest that. You would be completely bored." He's right.

And then I remembered an earlier post I wrote on this blog about iTunes University. Apple collected a wide variety of classes and lectures from the world's top universities and put them on-line. For free. And sure enough, Stanford's Center for Social Innovation had an entire series posted with exactly the material I was looking for. Did I mention that it was free. And it's mobile so I download the lecture into iTunes, put them on my ipod, and away I go. I spent the afternoon walking around, doing my errands, and being inspired by the ideas and experiences of the brightest minds in my chosen field. 3 birds (exercise, errands, and learning) with 1 stone. 

I also learned that I don't need a degree to do this work. (Good thing since I can't afford one!) I have and am currently amassing the knowledge and experience I need to do this. And rather than take a class or apply for a fellowship in this field, Richard encouraged me to sit down and write letters to the social entrepreneurs I admire most. Ask them if I could visit their organizations and spend half a day with them learning about their work. A handful of plane tickets and my time will teach me a whole lot more about this field than a once-a-week class for four months in a lecture hall. It's also cheaper and places an emphasis on networking with people doing the work I aspire to do. I may have just found my mountain...

1 comment:

runner52 said...

Nice thoughts....a good challenge beats being bored any day....connect with those that inspire you or had an impact on your life, both in the present as well as from the past and find out the magical do you do that? What looks easy probably take a lot of hard work and sweat....good luck